I don’t know, Muriel, he told me he was Santa Claus and I could trust him with my wallet.
Happy Holidays! In this Christmas stocking you’ll get an assortment of silent films topical and timely, thanks to the careful stewardship of Kino International and Paul Killiam.
A Christmas Past gives us a fascinating look at early American observations of Christmas in the 20th century. It’s amazing to see how much of the standard mythology for Santa Claus was already in place; it’s also interesting to observe that it was already a cheerily secular holiday, despite current claims that holiday inclusiveness is a recent invention of the devil.
The first piece up in this collection dates from 1901. A Holiday Pageant At Home, filmed 108 years ago while Queen Victoria still sat on the throne, presents a mother and her children sewing, reading and chatting in their middle-class home. In comes the father of the family, apparently announcing he wants a pageant prepared for Christmas. In the next scene, the two youngest girls stiffly make some sort of recitation with synchronized gestures; the older girl, in particular, looks as though she’d rather be anywhere else than in front of the camera. Next scene the prologue is past and our play consists of an older brother and sister dressed in adult clothes, relentlessly scolding the youngest girl, who weeps theatrically. But she is avenged! In comes the youngest boy, dressed as either a bandit or a pirate, brandishing a Bowie knife and a pistol. He chases the unpleasant pair until they fall to their knees and beg for mercy, at which the littlest girl cheers and claps. Father kisses Mother for a pageant well directed and that’s all, folks! This is interesting for its look back at the Victorian Christmas custom of amateur theatricals at home, and also for the relative novelty of the camera. Most of the principals stare frankly at the cameraman. It’s much more like a home movie than a studio production.
Next up is A Winter Straw Ride, from 1906. Two sleigh-loads of young ladies go riding through the snow in a small town somewhere in upper New York state. They whoop, they cavort, they fall off the sleighs, and chase a number of unfortunate young men across the snowy fields. Having knocked them down, they proceed to scrub snow into the men’s faces and clothing. That’s it for plot. These rather alarming hoydens tend to dress like members of the Oyl family—big boots, heavy long skirts, and heavy rolled turtleneck sweaters. One is reminded forcibly that this is the generation that fought for (and won) the right to vote.